Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Impressions of General Convention 2009: the Why of It

So, I’ve described my experience of the General Convention as a marathon. If my description didn’t make you tired, you’ve got more energy and endurance than I have. If I’ve inspired you to pursue this yourself, some will think you strange – but I won’t.

I have a conviction that I need to leave things better than I found them. That applies to the Church as much as anything else.

Now, I will admit that I have a moderately high opinion of my own work. I’m pretty good at the bedside after all these years. And one of the things I say about my work is that, where my parish colleagues will speak of being in Sales, I say I’m in Maintenance. Part of the reason I say that is that I’ve encountered my share of folks suspicious of me because of how they’ve experienced other religious professionals. I like to think I’ve given them a different experience, one that can repair their relationship, if not with God at least with other believers.

But I’m also aware that I can only encounter so many folks. However much of my time I might spend at the bedside, there are only so many hours and so many patients. On the other hand, if I shape the environment for better spiritual care, I benefit many more people than I can actually meet. So, while it isn’t my first love, I’ve learned the value of program and policy development. I sometimes joke that I do my best to convince my hospital that I’m indispensable; the fact is that I know better. On the other hand, I make the most of my opportunities to participate in leadership and program planning. It helps me step beyond individual patient care to provide for our patients what I speak of as “a spiritually safe place.”

I’ve done that in other settings as well. That has been my purpose in leadership in professional organizations. It was even the reason (well, part of it at least) that for a while I explored whether I have a vocation to be a CPE Supervisor.

For me, participating in the General Convention is perhaps the largest setting within which to pursue the same goal. Serving as a Deputy is an opportunity to help shape the culture of the Church. In a way I’m much less of a player than I am, say, in my hospital. At the same time I do love the Episcopal Church, and I have my own sense of how the Spirit is calling me and calling the Church. So, it’s as important to be a small fish in the big pond of General Convention as it is to be a big fish in the small pond of my hospital.

I will admit, too, that I’ve felt some of the same satisfaction in participating as an Exhibitor. The opportunity to share a ministry with so many Episcopalians and to expand the various networks for ministry that I participate in can, I believe, also participate in shaping ministries within the Church, if not the Church as a whole.

I will also admit I take a personal pleasure in all that networking. I’m a social guy. I like to connect with folks. I have friends that I only see at General Convention. I have friends from years gone by that I see and can reconnect with at General Convention. And then, of course, there’s the fun of making new friends. I do consider General Convention something of a party, even a family gathering. I used to call it (with apologies to “Guys and Dolls”) “the oldest established permanent floating cocktail party in Christendom.” I haven’t backed off of that because I mentioned it in a sermon and was chastened for it by a retired bishop in the congregation. Actually, I’ve backed off of it because people are exercising a bit more discretion. Still, it’s a fun time.

However, the important point for me is, I think, the important point for many of us: to help make things better than I found them, including the Church. I know that there are folks that disagree with me about where the Spirit is leading the Church. At the same time, they also see as important this effort to participate in leadership. That’s why I want them there, why I was glad to have in Anaheim those who disagreed with me.

So, there is it: for all the work and sleep loss I experienced in Anaheim, this is why I thought it important to play a part. Will I do it again? Well, I’ll have to get elected to serve as a deputy first, and that’s more than a year away. But will I do my best to be there? Absolutely. I think every Episcopalian should see it. If it’s not a cocktail party per se, it’s still the oldest established permanent floating family gathering in the American church scene. I think everyone ought to come. And when they come, they can take some part, significant if however small, in shaping the future of the Church, and leaving it better than they found it.

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